How Facebook’s Graph Search could affect restaurants

Posted by Mark Brandau, Nation’s Restaurant News

Operators and marketers are closely tracking any effect Facebook’s new Graph Search might have on restaurant referrals and word-of-mouth, but so far the new search function mainly puts the onus on brands to continually refine their Facebook engagement strategies, they said.

Graph Search, a new function Facebook rolled out in a beta test to a limited number of people on Jan. 15, allows users to find, among other things, pages of businesses, such as restaurants, that their friends like while using search criteria such as a city or state. In addition to restaurants their friends like, users also could find Facebook photos taken at restaurants or recent check-ins posted to friends’ pages.

Experts speculated that Graph Search could complement search engine optimization strategies or perhaps lessen the influence of other online sites like Yelp.com if it achieves enough scale, though it is too early to know for sure.

“It will be interesting to see if Facebook gets a widespread behavior change and gets people to use it often for search,” said Dana Arnold, director of public relations and social media for Madison, Wis.-based Hiebing, the agency of record for quick-service chain Culver’s.

So far, Facebook has not opened Graph Search to brands looking for paid opportunities, Arnold said, so the operative strategy is to keep interacting with Facebook fans to get their likes, comments and shares, which would ultimately lead Culver’s and other brands to show up in results when someone looks for “restaurants my friends like” in Graph Search.

Hiebing is currently managing Culver’s “Mini Resolutions” Facebook sweepstakes to promote the chain’s Mini Concrete Mixer.

“If we look at how traditional search outside of Facebook works and try to apply that within Facebook, then we know we’ll need to have people engaging with us,” Arnold said. “We need likes and shares, and we need our EdgeRank score to be high, and we do that through compelling daily content and large promotions, which is what we’re seeing with Mini Resolutions.”

 

Thinking more locally

Joe Sorge, chief executive of Milwaukee-based multiconcept operator Hospitality Democracy, said his restaurants, notably two-unit casual-dining burger concept AJ Bombers, are showing up in Graph Search results for a few customers testing out the search tool because he has spent years growing their likes and check-ins.

“That work we do to connect to those customers walking through our door and getting them to like our page and interact with us is what has made us prominent in Graph Search,” Sorge said. “It has everything to do with how connected you are to multiple friends who know each other.”

 

 

He added that location-based social platforms that link in with a person’s Facebook feed, like Facebook Places or Foursquare, would be important sources of activity to increase visibility in Graph Search. “If you haven’t been encouraging check-ins on a mobile app, it’s worth doing so now,” he said.

Social-media experts noted that the part check-ins would play in Graph Search, as well as the fact that people would use the tool to search for recommended restaurants nearest to them, would necessitate brands to manage local Facebook pages for each location they have.

Rob Reed, chief executive of MomentFeed, suggested in a blog post that brands need to claim local pages of their units by managing all pages through Facebook’s “Parent-Child” function for brand pages, and then make sure all those pages are updated with accurate location information and contact information.

If companies do not have individual location pages, they “need to start building pages for local branches in order to reap the benefits offered by Graph Search, because it’s going to act as a digital Yellow Pages,” Erica McClenny, vice president of social-media software firm Expion, wrote in an email to Nation’s Restaurant News. “It works for Web or mobile platforms, making it the key factor in ensuring that your storefronts will show up in a user’s search.”

McClenny reiterated that each local page should have accurate location information, including a street address and GPS coordinates, in its “About” section.

Not quite a Yelp killer

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Experts and operators have speculated that if users successfully find new restaurants in Graph Search, the tool could become competitive with other online services such as traditional search engines or Yelp.com.

Social Graph’s ability to use people-centered information rather than mere SEO terms engenders trust between Facebook users based on likes,” Jitendra Gupta, chief executive of mobile-loyalty firm Punchh, wrote in a recent blog post. “In other words, if my graph of Facebook friends likes these restaurants, then I may trust its suggestions more than those from a search engine.”

 

 

He added, however, that Social Graph might aggregate which restaurants have the most likes among a user’s friends, but could neglect “richer customer data such as details of actual restaurant visits and opinions about food and service.”

The fact that Graph Search results would be displayed only within Facebook and would not get aggregated by external search engines like Google or Bing means that Graph Search likely would have a long way to go before seriously blunting the influence of Yelp, Arnold said.

“Search within Facebook is only within Facebook, so that’s kind of the downside,” she said. “Today, when we search, it’s likely on Google or Yahoo, and nothing within Facebook plays into that. If I Google Culver’s, the Yelp review comes up much higher than the link to the Facebook page [in search results].

“I don’t think Graph Search is going to overtake Yelp,” she continued, “unless Facebook opens their capability up to outside search — which I don’t think will happen — or we all go to Facebook for searching.”

Milwaukee restaurateur Sorge was more optimistic that many customers would eventually use Social Graph to find restaurants — and trust their friends far more than anonymous Yelp reviewers.

“The relief from a ‘Yelp effect’ is probably true, but the best part about Graph Search is if you’re in a city where you know some people but you’re not from there, now there’s direct word-of-mouth instead of just Yelp reviews,” Sorge said.

Sorge projected that when Facebook likely opens up Graph Search down the road to brands for opportunities for paid search results, he could seed Graph Search results to reach a very specific audience.

“If I came up with a new bacon burger and bought a Graph Search result, I could reach people who like AJ Bombers and like bacon,” he said. “I spend money on Facebook ads every month to promote posts and increase our audience and likes. I absolutely see the value in Facebook advertising, so making it more relevant and content-specific with Graph Search makes me want to use it more.”

Lessons in Latin

Posted by MARC HALPERIN: RESIDENT F&B EXPERT QRS Magazine

With Hispanic consumers surging in number and influence, the future of quick-service dining has a distinctly Latin flavor.

Latin flavors are growing in popularity on menus at American quick serve brands.

If demography is indeed destiny (as so many pundits and prognosticators are fond of noting), then fast-food and fast-casual brands are bound to take on an even more pronounced Latin flavor in coming years.

Consider: The Latino population in the U.S. grew 43 percent between 2000 and 2010, and Hispanics are projected to constitute fully 20 percent of the U.S. population by 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And this is a young crowd; the median age of U.S. Latinos is estimated at 28 years, compared with the overall U.S. median of 37 years. This means that a vast number of Latino consumers throughout the U.S. are starting families and forming households, which are often larger than those of other Americans. It also means that many, many Latinos are just now entering their prime earning and spending years.

It bears repeating that Latinos are already a vitally important part of the quick-serve customer base. Recent estimates from NPD Group indicate that Hispanic consumers make up 17 percent of all quick-serve traffic, and that about 18 percent of all dollars spent in quick-serve establishments can be attributed to Hispanic customers. On average, these patrons visit fast-food and fast-casual restaurants 10 times per month, compared with an average of seven times per month among other demographics.

What this suggests for quick-serve operators is that it pays to have a menu strategy that takes into account the many and varied tastes of Latino consumers. Here are a few thoughts on how to best meet this challenge:

Cater both to the desire for authenticity …

The first and most obvious tack quick serves can take to attract more Latino consumers is to take classic Central and South American recipes and recreate them, taking care to source authentic ingredients from their origins.

What does this mean in practice? Well, if you’re going to serve, say, a traditional Mexican torta for lunch, it means it should be served not on an American-style bun or sub roll, but on a true Mexican bolillo—the crusty, oblong carriers that are, for many Mexicans, the sandwich’s defining ingredient. In a similar vein, if you’re considering adding arepas (stuffed Venezuelan corn patties) to your menu, don’t skimp on the real ground corn dough; sample many versions of the genuine article and strive to achieve something akin to what a native Venezuelan might experience at home.

… and to the acculturated consumer

It’s worth noting that while authentic offerings have their place, it’s not off strategy to develop dishes that aim more directly at the hybridized palates of acculturated Latino consumers—those with one foot planted in their Latino heritage and the other grounded in more traditional middle-American fare. This can be accomplished simply by, say, creating a grilled chimichurri sandwich that fuses the Argentinean sauce with a standard-issue slab of steak or chicken. The parsley-based sauce could even be doctored to include cilantro or basil to give it a more bi- or tricultural spin.

Play off traditional American favorites

Think mac ‘n’ cheese that uses Brazilian Minas cheese, Mexican queso blanco, or Venezuelan Guyanés rather than traditional cheddar. Think about the possibilities inherent in spiking pizza or pasta with Cecina de León, the Spanish-style cured and air-dried beef, rather than pepperoni or Italian sausage. Or try your hand at customizing burgers with any number of authentic Latino ingredients: salsas, tomatillo sauces, pico de gallo, serrano or habanero peppers, Oaxaca cheese … the options are virtually limitless.

Put a lid on it

I’ve talked before in this space about the potential for using interesting, distinctive Latin-American flavors to create novel soft drinks like tamarind or mango iced tea, guava or hibiscus lemonades, and agua frescas made with watermelon, tamarindo, or strawberry. Again, the care and creativity you bring to the table can go a long way toward winning over consumers who straddle the cultural divide between traditional Latin and traditional American foods and beverages.

One thought to bear in mind as you consider the options for making greater inroads with Latino guests: Everything we see, hear, and read about American quick-serve customers—particularly those who fall into the Millennial cohort—suggests that “flavor adventure” is one of the main drivers of food, drink, and restaurant choices these days. Everyone, it seems, is interested in having his or her palate piqued. So the menu items quick serves devise to appeal to the Latino market, if carefully conceived and smartly executed, stand to appeal to consumers across the spectrum. In other words, though the upfront creative challenges, financial investment, or ingredient-procurement process might be somewhat daunting, the potential payoff could be substantial.

Those Who Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail

Posted by Linda Musgrove, The Tradeshow Teacher

It’s January and I know everyone is just recovering from the holidays, but TradeShow Teacher is energized and ready to start 2013 with a bang. This is the time of year when everyone is trying to make good on those New Year’s resolutions. We all go into each New Year with plans to make this coming year the best yet. Maybe you planned to start exercising or spend more time with the family.

Whatever it is you want to achieve in day-to-day life or when it comes to tradeshows, it all starts with a great plan.

Today’s lesson is all about planning. You know what they say about good planning: “To be prepared is half the victory.” “A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.” And, of course, you’ve heard: “Bad planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”

What it all boils down to is thinking ahead so that you’re ready for whatever comes your way. It works in life and it definitely works for tradeshows. Since I know everyone has a lot on their plate with the new year just starting, I’m going to highlight some quick and easy ways to help you plan before you get anywhere near the show floor.
Review the show website
Sorry, students. I didn’t mean to raise my voice, but I can’t stress enough how important this is. The show’s website contains valuable information, such as exhibitor lists and networking events. The website is your best friend, and it is truly the essential tool in helping you make the most of your show.

Take a calendar and mark the timeframe you will be in the show’s city. Now, mark off the actual show hours and then start filling in the time around it. Enter the items that have fixed schedules first, which will make it possible to get the most out of the time you still have available. Even if last minute things come up, you’ll have a good part of your day planned out and you won’t waste valuable time trying to make appointments or track people down while you’re there.

Create a show folder that you’ll keep attached to you the whole time. This folder should have all your show documentation, your travel information, your calendar, your specific booth information, purchase orders, invoices, etc. Anything and everything connected to the show should be kept in one easy-to-reach place. If you want to be really prepared, you can scan all this information into a folder on your laptop so you can easily access from anywhere and guaranteed never to lose it.

Here’s a tip that may seem obvious, but it’s frequently overlooked. Before the show, make sure you have a ton of business cards. If you’re low, get more printed. I’m constantly surprised by the number of people who run out of business cards during a show. Make sure you bring at least three times as many as you think you’ll need.

Have you utilized MapYourShow.com? If not, you should check it out. MYS offers an entire suite of showmanagement software solutions. From online, onsite and mobile support, MYS features everything show managers need to successfully execute their shows. If you haven’t had occasion to check it out yet, you probably will soon since they currently provide services to over 200 tradeshows, such as IMTS, CES and other popular and very well-attended shows. I’ve used their service a number of times now, and I find that they make planning very easy, both for me and my exhibiting clients.

Create paper forms and have them available to capture leads. Even if you have an electronic lead-capturing system, it’s a good idea to have paper forms available as backup. Maybe your booth becomes too busy for the device to handle the traffic, or maybe you experience technical difficulty with the electronic system. The last thing you ever want to happen at a show is to miss capturing valuable leads. Just knowing you have a backup plan in place will ease your mind – believe me.

Again, this was just a few items from my ever-growing arsenal of pre-planning tips. For more tips for improved planning and exhibiting results, visit www.tsteacher.com/resources/tradeshow_teacher_trade_show_tips.php.

Okay, class it’s time for your homework. We’ll meet again in February. Class is dismissed.

Homework:
Dennis Waitley (an American motivational speaker and author of self-help books) once said “Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised.”
• What unwelcome surprises have you encountered on the show floor?
• What planning steps have you taken since that have better prepared you to not stumble upon these types of surprises?